I hope the chair at the witness stand at the federal courthouse is comfortable because Sen. Scott Beason spent all day today in it and is looking at another long chunk of time there tomorrow.
Beason was the first witness called by the prosecution. He is essential to the case because he was largely responsible for a portion of the recorded conversations with the defendants concerning alleged bribes.
Beason started off by establishing his credentials as a state senator and explaining his standard routine when it comes to staying in Montgomery during the legislative session - Beason says he shares a room at a local hotel with Rep. Ben Lewis. Lewis is also named as a witness for the prosecution.
Beason goes on to explain a dinner with a "friend of his" back in March 2009 - the dinner was at a restaurant in the wiregrass and the "friend" was Sen. Harri Anne Smith. Beason was involved in Smith's campaign in the summer of 2008, he was hired as a senior adviser to help "get her back on track" for the runoff election. For this he was paid $10,000.
At the dinner in question were a number of guests, Beason explained: Rep. Lewis, Claire Austin (lobbyist), a few country music singers and promoters and Ronnie Gilley were also present at this dinner. A presentation about the "Sweet Home Alabama" bill was heard. According to Beason, Ronnie Gilley was explaining how the bill's passage would be "good for the state."
It is a common occurrence, according to Beason, for dinners of this type to take place. However, during the dinner Beason made comments with Lewis about how gambling being used to bankroll part of a proposed establishment was illegal. Gilley became upset with this remark and got in a shouting match with Lewis.
"Not a good idea to scream and yell at the elected official," said Beason. "Part of the reason Gilley got upset was that Lewis was not supporting that legislation even though he was from that area."
According to Beason, Gilley explained after the exchange that "they" (meaning people with gambling interests) had a "media machine" that would put "tremendous pressure" on people to agree to vote for the legislation.
After that heated exchange, Beason said things went back to normal until after the dinner when Sen. Harri Anne Smith approached him in the parking lot of the restaurant.
Beason said Sen. Smith asked him to "consider being on the team."
"It was very short and she was saying that I needed to consider being on the team, being with these guys, the group that was supporting the gambling legislation. She knew that I was running statewide and said that it was expensive and "they" would be willing to give me upwards of 500,000 dollars to support their legislation." said Beason. That's when he said he told her it wasn't a good thing to be talking about and went back to his car.
Beason explained on the stand that he knew Smith was getting money for her political campaign from Ronnie Gilley. When asked how he knew he replied,
"I talked to [Gilley]. I know he was raising money for her but I never saw the check."
After the dinner, Beason and Lewis returned to their hotel in Montgomery where they discussed Gilley and Lewis' argument. Beason said he told Lewis to take his concerns about bingo lobbying in Lewis' district to the FBI or law enforcement. Beason said he found out later that Lewis did take his complaints to authorities.
Prosecutors next identified one of the un-indicted co-conspirators - Brad Unruh, former Young Republican president. The government argued that Milton McGregor hired Unruh to lobby lawmakers to vote for bingo legislation.
Beason explained that texts from Unruh along with "other things" convinced him to talk to Lewis about going to authorities. Lewis gave him the contact information for FBI agent Keith Baker (Baker has been named as a witness in the trial). Beason contacted Baker after he received what he perceived to be threatening texts from Unruh.
Beason explained Jarrod Massey approached him to ask if he had changed his mind about gambling legislation. Part of the conversation took place in text messages between Beason and Massey. Beason forwarded the texts from Unruh to an FBI agent, and revealed the Massey conversation to authorities (Massey does admit he sent the texts to Beason). The text messages were ruled as inadmissible because they could not prove the order in which the messages were sent (they did not come with a time-stamp). The text message will be allowed as evidence if they can find a transcript with that information included.
After a brief recess Beason explained he met with FBI Agent Keith Baker who convinced him to wear a wire and use recording devices to capture the conversations with the defendant and co-conspirators. Beason's first conversation was recorded on April 15, 2009 - it was a phone conversation with Brad Unruh.
The questioning now takes a turn to one of the defendants - Tom Crosby. Beason explained Crosby helped him draft a different bill that would outlaw all gambling if voters approved. However, Beason says when he got the bill back it included wording that he didn't want. The bill included exemptions for counties where gambling was already legal. He sent it back to be corrected. Beason says this is the first time he has ever seen major errors such as this in drafted legislation. Crosby is alleged to have been paid by Milton McGregor to alter the bill.
Next up we heard the first of several recorded conversations presented to the jury. In this conversation Beason is heard talking on the phone to Ronnie Gilley.
To start the conversation Beason tells Gilley,
"Riley hasn't been my Governor since he got sideways on Amendment 1 He's making me look levelheaded."
Gilley explains the "certification" of his "bingo" machines. Beason continues to discuss Riley.
Beason said he's "Not sure which Indians he's trying to help, the Alabama or the Mississippi."
Gilley says Riley intended to create a monopoly for the Mississippi casinos using anti-gambling legislation in Alabama. But, Gilley says there's no way for Riley to completely rid the state of gambling.
"The only way that you could potentially get rid of the Indians is to repeal every single bingo amendment in the state. But it is likely that the Indian facilities will still stay open, especially in Atmore," said Gilley.
Beason asked if the state could ever get to that point. Gilley goes on to say that his "solid bill" would "produce $500 million in new tax revenue and limit/regulate gaming, not expand it. The bill makes sense for Alabama but will not create a monopoly, it will leave two congressional districts open for anyone who wants to get in on that investment. There's a non-gaming county tax-share, every county in the state will share the proceeds."
It is after this conversation that Gilley asks for a "private" meeting with Beason. Gilley goes on to say he would be "very supportive" of any legislator who supports the Sweet Home Alabama bill.
Gilley is heard saying, "Whatever support you need it's going to be there. I'm not gonna tell you how to vote, you'll know what's right for the people of Alabama."
The prosecution breaks from the recorded conversation for a moment to ask Beason if he would be having this conversation with Gilley if he hadn't agreed to help the FBI. Beason's answer? "No."
The recoded conversation ends with Gilley trying to set up a private meeting between the the two "outside of Montgomery." Beason said Gilley did it that way so no one would be able to see or hear them talk about gambling.
When Beason asks how to contact Gilley, Gilley gives a very interesting response - he says he's using a "very safe line" because he changes out his cell phones every three days. The number he gives Beason will only work for two more days because, "[Gilley] doesn't trust this Governor as far as I can throw him."
Next up was a conversation recorded in Beason's office between himself and Jarrod Massey. The conversation was recorded by a body wire placed on Beason by the FBI.
Beason claims the meeting was not arranged - Massey just "stopped by."
In the conversation Massey tries to persuade Beason to vote for SB 380 despite Beason's reluctance. Beason explains he comes from an anti-gambling district. Massey tells him he could simply vote for the legislation while saying he was against gambling because the legislation would mean the measure would go to a vote by the people.
Massey tells Beason he's in "catbird seat," Beason explained to the jury that means he was in position to ask for whatever he wanted because his vote could have been the deciding vote.
Beason starts to talk hypothetically about striking a deal by asking who he would need to talk to. Massey says, "I can get Gilley up here today or tomorrow, but we need to move fast, you might miss an opportunity to cut a good deal. There's money in play that can only be given to certain candidates."
Beason tells the jury this is the first time he's ever been asked to sell his vote for money.
The next conversation heard is a cell phone recording of a conversation between Beason and Unruh. To make matters short, they're discussing making a deal.
Beason is heard saying "They're throwing the principles under the bus to make a deal." talking about fellow legislator Sen. Jabo Waggoner. Unruh says he got word to Massey that something had to be done, and that was why Massey spoke with Beason in his office the day before.
Beason says he's going to call "Ronnie" so things don't have to go through "Jarrod" all the time. Unruh says he couldn't get ahead with Milton but "Jarrod is the better one [to talk to] because he's got the non-threatening relationship with Paul Hubbert that can really make this happen."
"If Milton needs to be brought in after Jarrod goes and advocates, that's fine, we don't want to have to bring in big dude if we don't have to." said Unruh. "I believe that Jarrod can make some things happen on a much smoother level."
Beason tells the jurors from the stand,"This is absolutely part of me working for the FBI."
Unruh says to Beason that he is in a position to name his price.
The final wiretap heard today was the hardest to understand. It was recoded in Jarrod Massey's office. The voices heard were Sen. Beason's (he was recording again with a body wire) and also Massey's, Gilley's and finally Milton McGregor's voice.
The meeting took place on February 18, 2010.
Beason starts off by mocking the amount of state troopers used to raid Victoryland. Beason is heard asking McGregor, "You gotta wonder from a strategic standpoint what Riley was doing."
Beason explains to the jury he's trying to steer the conversation towards getting them to explain their offers for his vote.
There is a great deal of talk back and forth that the people in the media overflow room couldn't hear. The jury was even offered headsets so they could make better sense of the dialogue.
Someone on the tape is heard saying "This stays in this room."
McGregor says the only way to end "this" meaning the "bingo battle" is for then Attny.General Troy King to stop his task force and allow bingo because no court ruling will help. McGregor is clearly heard saying to Beason,
"We need this voted up or down. The dangerous thing is, if this fails, the only thing left standing will be Indian casinos. We need your help. . ."
Beason cleary tries multiple times to breach the topic of money. All McGregor or Gilley will bend to is offering "new friends" and "support."
"I promise you this - you won't regret helping us," said McGregor. "We don't forget our friends."
Gilley goes on to say, "The level of support is gonna be unconditional for supporters, and same level of intensity will meet the opposition."
Massey says to Beason, "We know you need resources."
Gilley is heard saying, "I'm gonna ask Sen. Smith to do the right thing and let the citizens decide because of the kind of senator she is. Support for Sen.Smith is unconditional. We're not going to allow her to be defeated."
It is important to note that through all of this, there is no talk of money. Gilley mentions using Beason for PR work. Beason replies, "That's what I'm talking about."
This conversation took place on a Thursday. Beason is told to have his answer to "them" by Sunday, Beason says they'll wait til Monday. The vote was to happen on Tuesday.
McGregor reassures Beason, "Honest to God this is the best thing to do for Alabama."
The conversation ends there.
Beason spends the end of the day explaining to the jury, "Everything's under the surface but we're talking about something for something. Everyone is in agreement and understanding what we're talking about."
I'm going to end my incredibly long post with a question...given what was said today during Beason's testimony and the wiretap presentations...could you or would you convict or acquit the defendants?